Green & Gold: And Then The New Crow Came
Tucked away in the farthest corner of North America is the magnificent island of Newfoundland. You may remember that I spent a summer up there in 2014, soaking up the culture and even laying down some roots. While much of Newfoundland’s music, landscape, and culture is reminiscent of a slightly more raucous Ireland, there is far more to discover once you really start paying attention. One such discovery is the music scene, particularly in St. John’s.
Newfoundland has a rich musical heritage that goes back to the original settlers, who brought folk songs from their native English and Irish lands. This tradition can be heard today in Shanneyganock, Irish Descendants, Ryan’s Fancy, and Buddy Wasisname & The Other Fellers, as well as the late great Ron Hynes, Newfoundland’s answer to Bob Dylan.
But that’s only one side of the story. Any time spent in St. John’s, at the listening stations in Fred’s Records, or anywhere near George Street will reveal a self-contained, thriving music scene, every bit as inspired as those found in Athens, Seattle, San Francisco, Halifax, and Boston. Some of these bands, such as Great Big Sea, The Once, and Hey Rosetta have found success off the island but, really, geographical isolation has kept most of these artists in town. This isolation has kept them from becoming big rock stars but it’s also created a scene that is diverse and about as true to itself as one could get. Every band sounds wildly different, yet they all still scream “St. John’s”. Whether it’s the Celtic punk of Rogues or the mellow folk of the Domestics, the laid-back island vibe of Baytown, the stoner metal of Sheavy, the quirky songwriting of Thom Coombes, or the post-punk sounds of London Above, there is a great deal of inspiration in the music found in this city.
Perhaps my favorite discovery from my time in St. John’s is Green & Gold. Founded by Len O’Neill (guitar, vocals, songs) and Steve Doyle (drums), Green & Gold plays a post-modern indie rock with incredibly thoughtful lyrics and arrangements. At times you can hear hints of outside influences but, really, this band just sounds like Green & Gold. The lineup was eventually fleshed out to include bassist Keenan McGregor and guitarist Chris Meyers and the band spent time touring Canada, won several local music awards and was featured on CBC (performing at St. John’s iconic Signal Hill).
Just released is their second album, And Then The New Crow Came. Recorded last fall in Len’s father shed, in the middle of nowhere, this album finds the band growing even further into its own sound, creating some of the freshest jams I’ve heard all year. Some of these songs were in the works for a number of years while others are on the newer side. Some have a familiar sound while others stretch out into wild new territory.
“Out” kicks the record off with a mighty bang, with verses reminiscent of The Tragically Hip and featuring an explosive chorus that takes all the fire of their first album and condenses it into one knockout punch. One of the best songs of 2016.
“Medic” finds Len getting reflective on those crazy times that we all had in our youth, perhaps with a shade of regret. Musically, it sounds like it could have fit on their first album, though there is a level of maturity that’s not usually found on a debut album.
From here, they slow things down a bit, with “The City Dance” and “Hold It Back”, which continues the theme of someone who made it just beyond the end of their rope and, perhaps, is still making sense of it. The song closes with a dark and dirty jam that is one of the coolest things I’ve heard from this band.
The title track picks up the pace with shades of The Hip and even a bit of mid-period Pavement. One of the things I love about this band is their dynamics. Steve Doyle is one of those rare drummers that’s more than just a timekeeper. He understands songwriting and creates drum lines that color the songs, rather than drive them. That goes for the entire band as well. Keenan’s bass lines prove that he is more than just a rhythm player, as melodic patterns weave in and out of Len’s often unorthodox guitar lines. More often than not, it’s Chris Meyers who holds down the rhythm, while the rest of the band floats around him. The result is a truly unique sound.
This dynamic sense is never more prevalent than “In The Garden By The River”, which starts as a slow, reflective lullaby that slowly builds, over the course of six minutes, into an absolute frenzy, before closing on a hypnotic groove that gives way to the brilliant and intense “Black Dot” and its shades of Faith-era Cure.
From there, Green & Gold wins this year’s award for wildest musical juxtaposition with the calypso-tinged “Fool’s Free Ticket”. While the first couple of passes through this could confuse, it actually makes a great deal of sense. “Thanks for drawing the line/I get carried away”, this song is clearly the light at the end of what was obviously a very dark tunnel.
Next up is the laid-back yacht-rock of “Island Of Gold”, a number that reeks of gold medallions and polyester suits, but in a good way. Closing out the album is “Nebula”, a dark, psychedelic coda, that perfectly concludes the story laid out on the record. While I don’t think this is a concept album as such, it does tell a story, one of someone who stumbled into the abyss only to eventually find their way out. It’s a tale told many times and, honestly, it never gets old. Kudos to the band for pulling it off so brilliantly.
This album, as well as their debut, The Body Knows, can be found at http://greenandgold.bandcamp.com – check it out!